Information systems professionals help to achieve business and organizational goals through the use of information technology.a The information systems (IS) profession is teamoriented and project-based. It involves a blend of business knowledge and understanding, technical skills, and working relationships with business and technical professionals. The skills and knowledge involved range from traditional computing, wide ranging business related studies, to “soft” skills useful in working with individuals and teams to achieve organizational objectives. IS students are first and foremost concerned with future employability. Employers, on the other hand, often indicate that they want new graduates who can be immediately productive in their environment. Are the aspirations of students and employers fundamentally incompatible? How can IS educators help to find a workable and satisfying balance? How can information systems educators achieve a better fit between the workplace and the university “studyplace”?
The past decades have been characterized by a rapidly and constantly changing business environment. Lee, Trauth, and Farwell (1995) argued that technological and sociological developments facilitated by evolving information technology and changing business needs has made it necessary for IS professionals to develop a wider range of nontechnical skills than was previously the case. Similar views have been expressed by many others, including Burn, Ng, and Ma (1995), Cafasso (1996); Lowry, Morgan, and FitzGerald, (1996); Morgan, Lowry, and FitzGerald (1998). Beise, Niederman, Quan, and Moody (2005) saw a need for the reform of undergraduate IS programs to specifically target the global IT environment by adding a global business perspective to existing curricula or by developing new curricula focusing on globalized information management. The perpetual global competition for skilled information systems professionals continues unabated (Florida, 2005; Schwarzkopf, Saunders, Jasperson & Croes, 2004).
The preparation of IS professionals must encompass a body of knowledge and a repertoire of technical skills identified by various professional bodies (ACM-AIS, 2002; Cheney, Hale, & Kasper, 1990; Cohen, 2000; Davis, Gorgone, Feinstein & Longenecker, 1997; Gorgone & Gray, 1999; Lidtke, Stokes, Haines & Mulder, 1999; Lyytinen & King, 2004; Mulder & van Weert, 2000; Underwood, 1997). IS curricula must take cognizance of the greater diversity within the IT labour force as a result of globalization (Trauth, Huang, Morgan, Quesenberry & Yeo, 2006).
The persistent research finding that employers want graduates who possess better business skills has often been interpreted by academics to mean that more traditional, formal business subjects such as accounting, economics, business finance, and marketing should be taught alongside traditional technical or “hard” skill subjects such as systems analysis & design and programming in particular languages. (Amarego, 2005; Gardiner, 2005; Holt, MacKay & Smith, 2004; Lee, 2005; Leong & Tan, 2004; Litecky, Arnett & Prabhakar, 2004; Medlin, 2004; Trauth, Farwell, & Lee, 1993; Van Slyke, Kittner, & Cheney, 1997). Beachboard and Parker (2003) observed that course requirements in model curricula likely contain more technical material than can be covered in an undergraduate course. On the other hand, “soft” areas such as teamwork, communication skills, ability to accept direction, and others are expected to be somehow “picked up” along the way by students through an unspecified, osmotic process and not addressed as part of a curriculum. Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence continues to suggest that at least some new graduates continue to lack “soft skills” (Maiden, 2004). Berghel and Sallach (2004) maintain that a curriculum must take account of developments in technologies, business models, and applications to enable students to build the necessary competencies.